Researchers Find How Disease-resistant Plants Recognize Bacteria

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Scientists at Purdue University have uncovered how plants that are resistant to disease recognize disease-causing microbes, a development that experts predict will lead to crops that are better able to resist disease naturally.

Gregory B. Martin, associate professor of agronomy at Purdue, and his colleagues found that an enzyme called Pto kinase, a protein that is produced by a disease-resistance gene in plants, works inside plant cells by binding to a protein produced by a disease-causing bacterium, which alerts the plant's various defense mechanisms.

"By understanding the mechanism of disease resistance in plants, we hope to improve the stability of their resistance, and move that trait into more crop plants," Martin says. "There are varieties of many crop plants that are resistant to certain diseases, but the disease-causing microbe evolves and the resistance breaks down. By learning how the plants and microbes recognize one another, we hope to create crop plants that have broader, more stable resistance."

According to Martin, the findings will have wide application. "It turns out that plants resist diverse pathogens -- including bacteria, fungi and viruses -- by using very similar defense mechanisms," he says. "By understanding how a plant recognizes one pathogen, we should begin to understand how plants identify many different pathogens."

The discovery of this protein-protein interaction is reported in today's (Friday, 12/20) issue of Science. The same issue of Science contains a second research paper that addresses different aspects of the recognition mechanism, which was written by researchers from the laboratory of Brian Staskawicz, professor of plant biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

The papers represent major breakthroughs in the understanding of the molecular basis of how plants resist diseases. "The field of plant disease resistance has just crystallized in the past two to three

Contact: Steve Tally
Purdue University

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